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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

8                              THE GAY GENIUS

the effect achieved by these tablets was very different from what the
authors had intended. For over a century, the children of the black-
listed men boasted that their ancestors' names were included in the
tablet. That is why the Yuanyu Partisans' Tablet became so famous in
history. Actually, some of these ancestors did not deserve the honour,
for in the zeal to weed out all opposition, the authors of the tablet
included all their personal enemies, and black-listed some bad men as
well as the good ones.

As the gods had decreed it, however, in January 1106 a comet
appeared in the sky and the tablet established on the east wall of the
Wenteh Palace was struck by lightning and split in two. There could
not be a clearer indication of Heaven's displeasure. Emperor Huitsung
was frightened, and in fear of the objection of the premier had the other
tablet at the Tuan Gate secretly destroyed at night. On finding this
out, the premier was greatly chagrined, but righteously exclaimed:
"The tablet may be destroyed, but the names of these men shall be
remembered for ever!" We know today that his wish was fulfilled.

The striking of the tablet by lightning started Su Tungpo's steadily
increasing fame after his death. During the first decade all stone
inscriptions bearing his handwriting or composition were ordered
destroyed, his books were banned, and he was deprived of every rank
he had held in his lifetime. A writer of this time noted down in his
journal, however, that "the poems he wrote in exile are very popular.
Although the court has increased the fine for possession of Su's works
to 800,000 cash [or $800], the stronger the ban, the wider the poems
spread. Scholars feel disgraced and' are considered uncultured when
they cannot recite his poems in company."

Five years after the lightning had struck, a Taoist priest reported to
the Emperor that he had seen the spirit of Su Tungpo serving as the
minister of literature at the gods' court in Heaven. The Emperor was
still more frightened and hastily restored to Su the highest rank he
had obtained in his lifetime, and later conferred one higher than he
had ever possessed. By 1117 the imperial household, under the same
emperor, was itself collecting Su Tungpo's manuscripts, offering as
much as 50,000 cash apiece. The eunuch Liang Shihcheng paid 300,000
cash, roughly $300, a high price according to the then standard of
living, for the inscription on the Stone Bridge of Ingchow (which had
been discreedy hidden), and another man paid 50,000 cash for three
words written by Su on the tablet of a scholar's studio. A brisk busi-
ness was going on, and soon these precious manuscripts were in the
palace or in the homes of rich collectors. When the Kin (Manchurian)
barbarians captured the capital, they specifically demanded a*s part of
the booty the works of Su Tungpo and Szema Kuang, for Su's name
had spread to the northern tribes beyond China's border even in his